Aging and Sleep: What You Need to Know About Seniors and Sleep Issues

Contrary to popular belief, poor sleep is not a necessary part of the aging process, and seniors need as many hours of sleep as everyone else. Sleep is crucial for good health, and most people need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.

It’s true that aging and sleep problems sometimes go hand-in-hand but there are many reasons. Addressing the underlying issues causing sleep disturbances helps put many seniors’ sleep issues to rest.

Do you or an elderly loved one have sleep problems? Here’s what you should know about aging and sleep.

Aging and Sleep Issues

Although poor sleep isn’t inherent with aging, many seniors, like many adults, have trouble with the duration and quality of their nightly sleep. Some of this is due to the aging of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus in the brain.

The SCN controls the body’s circadian rhythm which is a 24-hour cycle. This is the natural sleep-wake cycle of your body. Deterioration of the SCN is disruptive to the circadian rhythm.

Your body is a fine-tuned machine releasing hormones that control hunger, fatigue, and wakefulness. Two important hormones are cortisol and melatonin which help control your sleep cycle.

Daylight is especially helpful in signaling the SCN through light coming into your eyes. Unfortunately, many seniors don’t get enough sunlight during the day.

Sunglasses play a role in preventing cataracts, but it’s helpful to get some unfiltered sun in the eyes during the day. Getting some sun exposure in the morning without sunglasses helps with wakefulness during the day and prepares the body for sleep in the evening.

Avoid bright lights, T.V., computer, and phone screens two hours before your desired bedtime.

Poor Health and Sleep

Aging doesn’t have to lead to poor health, but poor health makes aging more difficult. No matter your age, poor health is a contributing factor to poor sleep.

As you age, maintaining good health is more important than ever to keep your body functioning well. The right nutrition, as well as exercise, are the two best ways of maintaining good health.

Did you know that only about 10% of Americans get the recommended daily amount of exercise? People who exercise have an easier time falling asleep at night.

Even if you’re 90 and never exercised before, it’s not too late to start an exercise regimen but be sure and check with your doctor first. Aim to get 150 minutes of exercise per week. That’s only 30 minutes of exercise five days a week.

Poor nutrition is a problem for many people, not only senior citizens. A good nutrition program doesn’t have to be complicated and it’s one of the best ways of staying healthy as you age.

Work on getting enough fiber by increasing your fruit and vegetable intake. Eat healthy proteins and avoid eating too much red meat throughout the week.

Foods to eat for better health include:

  • Fish
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Legumes
  • Healthy fats such as olive oil and avocados

There are also a few foods to avoid and those include:

  • Excessive sugar
  • Excessive caffeine
  • Simple carbs
  • Fast food
  • Unhealthy fats such as trans fats

It’s okay to treat yourself once in a while. Unfortunately, too many Americans subsist on a junk food diet.

Even if you’re not one to gain weight easily, junk food still leads to unhealthy outcomes such as high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes.

Pain and Sleep

Do you have back or joint pain keeping you awake? You may feel like lying in bed is all you want to do but that makes the problem worse.

Studies show that exercise reduces pain and increases your quality of life. Exercise helps control weight which also reduces the stress on your joints.

If you suffer from back or joint pain, try walking or cycling. If you have access to a pool, try laps or water aerobics. Most local parks and recreation centers offer swim and exercise classes at affordable rates.

Maintaining flexibility as you age is also important. It helps with maintaining a good range of motion and makes falling less likely.

Yoga is a great way to maintain strength and flexibility. Studies show that yoga reduces back pain, neck pain, and fibromyalgia symptoms. Pain reduction is a big help when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep.

Medication Side Effects

Old age and sleeping problems are sometimes a result of medications. Adults 65 and older take more medications than young adults. It’s common for seniors to take as many as five medications a day.

All medications have side effects and some of those side effects are poor sleep. This is why staying healthy is one of the best things you can do for a good night’s sleep.

Eating right and exercising daily is a good way for most people to avoid common medications such as those taken for hypertension.

Sleep Apnea in Seniors

Exercise also helps you avoid obesity which can cause health and sleep problems. Obesity is linked to obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that causes breathing issues and poor sleep.

Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that takes a toll on your body. Some of the effects of untreated sleep apnea include:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Depression
  • Acid reflux
  • Liver problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Breathing problems
  • Decreased libido
  • Memory loss
  • Mental confusion

Do you snore loudly? Do you wake up gasping for air? Are you excessively tired during the day?

If you answered yes to these questions, ask your doctor about a sleep study for sleep apnea. Treating sleep apnea helps many people get a better night’s sleep.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep

When it comes to aging and sleep issues, some people do experience worse sleep as they age, but it’s not inevitable. If you have sleep issues, don’t assume it’s age-related. There could be other issues causing sleep disturbance.

See a doctor first and discuss your sleep issues. Make some permanent lifestyle changes that include healthy daily nutrition and exercise. Even seniors can get great sleep!

Do you have an aging loved one who needs home health care? Do you want to help? Check out our Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program for more information!

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